Unique selling propositions or USPs are most commonly used in marketing and business settings to state what makes a brand or product different from the rest and better than your competitors.
The same theory can be applied to yourself. Identifying and articulating your USP lays the foundation on which to build your personal brand, making you more distinctive and memorable in the eyes of employers, clients, colleagues, peers and your team. It’s a statement that clearly defines what you do and why you do it better than anyone else.
This is a rewarding process that involves looking at your strengths so that you can clearly articulate them and build on them for the future. You will discover what makes you uniquely valuable and one of a kind, then reap the rewards.
There will be people who have the same skills, knowledge and personal attributes as you - for example, there are thousands of excellent content creators who work hard, sacrifice and are determined. This process is about packaging up your skills, knowledge, talent and abilities to tailor them to a particular audience such as potential employers or clients, or for specific opportunities.
Uniqueness and value
C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel, stated in their 1990 Harvard Business Review paper, “The Core Competence of the Corporation, ” that core competencies are some of the most
important sources of uniqueness. These are essential selling points that represent what a company does uniquely well, and that no one else can copy quickly enough to have an impact.
A core competency for business must be:
Difficult to imitate
These principles are applied in the recruitment process where the most suitable person gets the job and the person who possesses the core competencies the organisation values the most gets the highest pay.
We will now look at how to identify and develop your core competencies and match them to what your target market values.
What core competencies does your target market value?
If you are looking for a new job or promotion your target market may be a recruiter, employment agency or your manager. Similarly, it may be a set of clients if you own a business.
Be clear on what exactly you are aiming for then take the time to list the characteristics that are being sought. You might peruse different job advertisements of dream positions, talk to recruitment agencies or do some market research. You might also look at those who are already in the place where you want to be and analyse what skills, knowledge and attributes they have. Think about factors like education, personal qualities, what makes them excel or stand apart. What does the client or organisation value?
Evaluate yourself and others
Make a list of opportunities you would like to pursue and the most common skills, knowledge and attributes required. For each opportunity evaluate and rank yourself against them. Do you already possess some of the core competencies but they aren't highly visible or haven't been recognised? Do you need to undertake training or professional development? Only list competencies that are relevant. Content creation skills aren't valuable if you aspire to the position of accountant. How do you rank against others?
It is possible to be successful regardless of whether you are lacking in some skill, as long as you have a carefully thought-out strategy to improve it or address the problem. You should emphasise the range of skills that you have as well as other areas where you excel while also setting a target to enhance your weakest skill. On the other hand, you may want to focus on parts of the industry where a weakness doesn't matter.
Mind Tools developed a graph to visualise this process which is recreated below. You can see clear areas where you have stronger core competencies, which should therefore be emphasised and also weaker than high-performer competencies which you should seriously consider developing to excel or improve your position for that opportunity.
Form your USP statement
The obvious competencies are the ones that you are highest ranked in - these will form the basis for your USP.
Where you still have a good rank but not the highest ask yourself:
Which of these reinforce areas where I’m top-ranked?
If I focus on a particular type of work, do any of my strengths cancel out my areas of weakness?
But you still need to address the weaker areas of your competencies - remember you are selling a bundle of competencies to give you the best possible chance of success. Are they adversely affecting you (in which case you may want to consider other alternatives), are you able to neutralize them with some clever thinking, or are you able to correct them with education or training?
You should also examine the highly ranked skills of those who are currently successful in the position, industry, or organisation where you hope to be, and determine which areas you should concentrate on to develop your skills even further or if they can't feasibly be developed you may need to consider other opportunities.
Now you should be able to write your USP, highlighting your highest-ranked core competencies. You may also choose to add in details about past results, experience, extreme specialisations or level of education. Just remember to make it clear and concise - it should be no more than two sentences and tailored to the core competencies the target audience is looking for. Therefore depending on the opportunities, you may have more than one USP statement in your toolbox - in fact it is a great idea if you do.
If you are having the fortunate difficulty of having more than one set of core competencies Mind Tools recommends "look at each USP, and use the tests for core competencies based on: relevance, difficulty to imitate, and breadth of application."
The second recommendation from Mind Tools is "Before you finalise your USP, make sure that it is realistic. First, put yourself in the minds of the people who are the “gatekeepers” of the opportunity, and ask whether the USP will really matter to them. Second, make sure that the USP is authentic, that it genuinely suits you, and that it captures the essence of who you are. People will quickly see through you if you’re trying to fake it."
Now you have a banging USP statement or two you need to maintain your position. New competitors will enter the arena and new core competencies will be sought as our environment changes. Therefore you may need to invest in activities like professional development, training, consultation with industry experts, self-study and freelancing to sustain sought-after competencies.
Use your USP in social media profiles such as Linkedin, in your portfolio, resume/CV, personal business card and any other collateral where your personal brand is important.
Demonstrate your USP by writing blogs or for publications, networking, participating in key projects, volunteering to participate in industry events and mentoring.
Remember that you don’t have to be the best at any one thing in particular to develop your USP. What you are doing by developing your USP is making your package of skills more desirable than your competitors’ skills.
You should keep an eye on others' positioning during the analysis process; doing so gives you a better idea of what core competencies are sought after. If you view a USP as a dynamic statement that changes as you develop, you give yourself the best chance of maintaining a positive position.
Lastly, be proud of your USP. Use it to stand out of the crowd and go after the opportunities you dream of - you earned it!